Breath-taking thrills and spills and awe-inspiring sights are on offer in the tourist mecca, writes Morgan Tait.

You're spoilt for choice when it comes to adrenaline-inducing activities on offer in the North Island tourist mecca that is Lake Taupo.

Hurl yourself from aircrafts and bridges; race across, under and over the water (and the land); test your sporting prowess and get amongst the bustling nightlife.

But visiting the adventure resort does not have to be all go, go, go. Choose your pace and pick from an array of activities, sights and hospitality spots , making for an ideal break this spring.

Say cheese

Kitchenware, when you think about it, has some pretty descriptive names: Beaters for beating, mashers for mashing, skewers for skewering.

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So when you are in an inflatable rubber raft heading towards jagged rocks protruding from a white water rapid — it is little comfort to know this particular kink of the Tongariro River is called The Cheese Grater.

"We are the cheese," yells Rafting New Zealand guide, Jesse, by way of explanation.

As our raft hits the rocks, water swamps the boat and the velocity of the river — at twice its usual capacity due to a dam release — judders us forward and back onto calm water.

The Cheese Grater is one of 50 rapids we navigate during the 15km paddle; others are aptly named The Pinball Machine, Long Rapid and Rapid Number Three.

Rafting on the Tongariro River.
Rafting on the Tongariro River.

The four hour activity includes door to door pickup for the 45-minute trip from Taupo to the RNZ base at Turangi. Once on the raft, we float through native bush, past 100m-plus white pumice cliffs, straining to catch a rare glimpse of the endangered blue duck.

The adventure activity is enhanced by our charismatic guides, including the notable "Captain Jack", who enthusiastically shares history of the area, including Maori legends, geographic facts, and ample jokes.

Four layers of supplied kit, plus lifejackets and helmets, keep the biting cold at bay, as does a mid-river hot chocolate and a post-paddle hotdog and mulled wine.

Sail away with the friendliest pirate

Dave Nesbitt of the pirate-themed Sail Fearless has got to be the not-so-buried treasure of Taupo. With a heart of gold and extensive knowledge of the region, lake and notoriously quick-tempered weather it is no wonder he has won so many awards for his affordable cruises.

Great Lake Taupo's only 48' ketch offering small groups of up to 18 people is pure sailing magic — guests can relax on beanbags and snuggle under blankets, or give Dave a hand with the sails. His knowledge of the Mine Bay Māori Rock Carvings, towering 14 metres above the deep water of Lake Taupo has to be second to none, as most of his information was told to him first hand by one of the carvers themselves.

Starting over Labour Weekend in 1976, Matahi Whakataka Brightwell and his team of carvers — cousin Jono Randall, Te Miringa Hohaia, Dave Hegglun and Steve Myhre — worked over four summers, finally completing the carvings in 1980. Now, you can only visit by boat, and Sail Fearless is a relaxing way to see this extraordinary artwork.

Operating the yacht alone, Nesbitt points out popular bush walks and swimming spots; tells tales from his previous cruises and makes sure we get front row seats for what he calls the "human confetti" — skydivers raining from the sky.

Swinging and falling

Suspended hundreds of metres above the gently swirling Waikato River, strapped to a friend and harnessed to a platform that's somehow connected to a sheer cliff face — I am acutely aware of the existence of gravity in this gully.

The water, in the turquoise shades of a Paua shell, looks too tranquil for the screams it hears from Taupo Bungy's punters above.

This is the newer Bungy Swing, a lengthier, less upside down experience than a traditional bungy.

While the head first jump is from a platform jutting directly out of the cliff, the swing drops from much closer to the vertical rock face. Worryingly close.

Two guides provide a safety briefing — clipping and tightening all sorts of harnesses and ropes until swingees are in a sitting position.

A winch cranes us out over the platform's edge, a metal clip snaps open in a flash. There's a jolt.

We are falling.

Mid-air, with no tension on the rope, there is just falling.

When the rope does tighten, the fall becomes a pendulum — swinging overwater and back close enough to inspect the nests of birds roosting in the cliff.

To get even more closely acquainted with the water and rock faces — we take a trip on the Huka Falls Jet.

Blasting through just 10cm of water at 80km/h, we can nearly kiss the cliffs as daring swerves and 360-degree turns bring the boat perilously close.

The falls pass enough water to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool every five seconds, and viewing them from the water is something quite special.

Floating amongst the white water, the boat is close enough to feel the spray and mist drifting from the exploding water.

Heated handrails and warmed wet weather gear provide dry and comfort, and safety advice to keep feet planted and firm grip should not be ignored.

The fare factor

Thrillseekers and cruisers alike need to ensure they are fuelled regardless of their agenda. Taupo's village-styled town centre has an array of cafes and bars to choose from, like the hearty menu of Eruption Cafe.

Try the french toast and generously sized bagels, as well as wellmade coffee and large cabinet selection. Service is fast and friendly, and indoor and outdoor seating is plentiful — with the welcome addition of blankets to cosy up your dining experience.

For a destination meal, visit L'arte Cafe. Walk past the teapot tree and down the colourful, ceramic mosaic paths to a homely haven of delicious coffee, cakes and a large tasty menu.

Don't ignore the corn fritters with creamy avocado and fresh, tangy mango salsa, or the fragrant green tea. Again, staff are welcoming and incredibly friendly, with attentive service. After eating, check out the on-site gallery and gift store.

For dinner, try the Rose on Roberts — where you will be pleasantly surprised at every turn. Styled as a tudor-esque Old English pub, you will not find bangers and mash here. Instead, try the five course degustation menus with wine or craft beer matches. Four seasonal menus from chefs Ariki Hamilton, Josh Martson and Justin Webber are enhanced by the exceptional hospitality from Charles Croft and Theresa Carran. Fresh seafood is paired with fragrant herbs and seasoned vegetables, complimented by wines from Hawke's Bay and Central Otago.

IF YOU GO
Where to stay: Lake Taupo Top 10 Resort has comfortable motel units — out two bedroom unit had a snuggly super king bed and two king singles, with two Sky-equipped flat screen TVs, a roomy L-shaped couch and private-ish picnic table areas. Best of all is the swim up bar at Rusty's Lagoon and the incredible geothermally heated pool, exclusively for the use of guests.

The writer travelled courtesy of Destination Great Lake Taupo.